Historic Home to be Restored as City Hall

A state grant will provide for the Harvey House restoration, allowing the Barstow Police Department to expand into vacated City Hall offices.
By CHUCK MUELLER

 

San Bernardino County Sun Sunday, April 11, 1999 BARSTOW - The historic Harvey House depot and restaurant, once destined for destruction, will become Barstow's City Hall. A $1 million state surface transportation grant will cover costs to restore one-third of the 88-year-old structure, about 18,000 square feet, to accommodate all city departments except police. "It's something we've talked about doing for years, but didn't have funds for necessary renovations," City Manager Paul Warner said. "Once we move in, we'll see new life there. And it will give people a reason to go to the downtown area." The Spanish-Mediterranean style Harvey House, the west wing of which serves as Barstow's rail-bus transit center, sits in the heart of Old Town along Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad's downtown yards.

The City Council has hired San Diego architect James Robbins to design the building to accommodate city offices on the second and third floors of the north side addition, as well as first and second floors to the east. In all, 39 employees will transfer from City Hall on Mountain View Street to the Harvey House. The Police Department, with 64 employees, needs additional space and will expand into the offices vacated in City Hall, Warner said That will keep the Police Department in the city's law enforcement complex. City Council Chambers will remain in the present City Hall.

"We plan to call for construction bids by July," said Marlowe Kulseth, city building official. "Renovations will take about five months, and we hope to move into the Harvey House by year's end." Mayor Katy Yslas-Yent said no local tax money has gone into renovations. "We want to get started as soon as possible," she said. "The state grant expires in August and if we don't use it, we will lose it." The entire structure was upgraded to meet seismic standards in the wake of the 1992 Landers earthquake, which caused extensive damage to the building. The city received $4 million from the California Office of Emergency Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency for structural improvements, and $4 million in state Transit Capital Improvement grants for interior improvements, Kulseth said.

The Harvey House, opened by Santa Fe Railway in 1911 as a depot and popular restaurant for travelers, closed as a train station in 1973 when air travel overtook rail passenger service. It had replaced a previous Harvey House that was built in 1887 but burned to the ground in 1908. After a long battle to save the depot from demolition, the city in 1990 bought the 12-acre site surrounding the structure from Santa Fe for $218,400. The railroad donated the building, which the city opened a year later as a transit center for Amtrak trains, Greyhound and Orange Belt buses, and city cabs and buses.

For the past decade, the Harvey House has been considered as the site for a regional museum, Indian center, restaurant and retail shops. Occasional weddings and parties take place in the building's former dining room.

"We would like to open a Route 66 museum that would feature Barstow area landmarks, along with our military bases, Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, solar plants and the early man site" said City Councilwoman Gloria Darling. "There are a multitude of things here to share. We're also seeking a grant to build a pedestrian bridge over the tracks to the Harvey House, reminiscent of one that existed a century ago."

The Western America Railroad Museum Inc.., the city and Barstow rail buff Norman Orfall have acquired a diesel locomotive, a private rail car, a baggage car, a flat car and three cabooses to be a major feature of the museum. Orfall plans to use his "motor home on rails," one of 12 built in 1959 by Canadian National Railways for its executives, as a bed-and-breakfast inn. It can accommodate seven overnight guests.

The Harvey House, once part of a chain of 75 hotel-restaurants from Chicago to Los Angeles, was a hub for travelers seeking a hot meal and overnight lodging. Waitresses recruited from across the nation, known as Harvey Girls, served hot meals, baked good and ice cream prepared in the kitchen. During its heyday in World War II, thousands of hungry soldiers were fed meals daily in its spacious dining room, which may be restored to its original splendor.

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Website Author's Note: By most published accounts, World War II was the last gasp of the Harvey Houses, the heyday was much earlier. Before dining cars, before paved roads, before airlines, when the west was wild, the Haravey Houses provided the good food elegantly prepared and modestly priced that fell by the wayside during the Depression, which dried up much rail travel for business or pleasure.

The burden of WW II required the Harvey Company to relax its dress codes, its standards of service, and the quality and price of meals. Since troop movements were top secret, the restaurants had little time to prepare meals in their usual style. Food was rationed as well.

Massive post war subsidies by government to the airline industry and highway construction, with nothing for the railroads, so reduced passenger train travel that the future for the Harvey Company was inevitable.


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